I very much appreciate this as the NYTimes did not deliver here on
the day of her obituary. And I also appreciate your interest in now
reading her books.
But I think it is characteristic of what she spent her life doing that
even you have not read her books--books absolutely as influential as
those of, say, Bloom, if one has cared about a half century of
change in scholarship. [If anyone is about to scoff, ask why you are
not as familiar with her work and whether you have read all the work
that interacts with it.] Things seem different now, and to a significant
extent they are, but it is still the case that major feminist
scholarship is ignored or dismissed. Just check the indices of
feminist scholars: they have read and cite major male theorists.
Check the male theorists: in most cases they do not return the
Date sent: Sun, 19 Oct 2003 14:47:50 -0500
Send reply to: "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
From: Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Death of a Scholar
To: [log in to unmask]
Four and a half years older than me. After seeing this notice the
day (forwarded to the list of the ISU Eng. Dept.), I went out and
several of the Amanda Cross books. Quite good. She also wrote
Were the Only Models We Had: My Teachers Barzun, Fadiman,
(2001). It too looks interesting. I have never read any of her
professional publications. I gather from the brief notices at the
Barnes&Noble web page that Trilling went beyond sexism to
Carolyn Heilbrun, Pioneering Feminist Scholar, Dies at 77
By ROBERT D. McFADDEN
Published: October 11, 2003
Carolyn G. Heilbrun, a retired Columbia University literary scholar
whose extensive writings included pioneering books and essays in the
feminist canon and a dozen highly erudite detective novels under the
pseudonym Amanda Cross, died at her home in Manhattan on Thursday. She was
Professor Heilbrun, who had written of taking her own life in a 1997
book, "The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty," committed suicide,
said her son, Robert. She had not been ill, he noted yesterday. "She
wanted to control her destiny," he said, "and she felt her life was a
journey that had concluded."
Aside from serving as an instructor at Brooklyn College in 1959-60 and as
a visiting lecturer or professor at Yale, Princeton, Swarthmore and other
colleges, Ms. Heilbrun spent her entire academic career at Columbia,
joining the faculty in 1960 as an instructor of English and comparative
literature and retiring in 1992 as the Avalon Foundation Professor in the
But she was best known as the author of nine scholarly books, including
"Toward a Recognition of Androgyny," "Reinventing Womanhood" and "Writing
a Woman's Life," and scores of articles that interpreted women's
literature from a feminist perspective, and as the author of the Kate
Fansler mysteries. Her heroine, like her creator, was a professor of
literature and a feminist.
The novels were ostensibly murder mysteries whose amateur sleuth
sometimes sought clues in literary texts and a killer's motives in
academic politics. Most were well received by readers, but some critics
said the plots were thin and the social commentary thick, and that the
real subjects were women's changing social positions, relationships with
one another and struggle for independence.
The books offered scathing depictions of academic backbiting,
observations on Ivy League social pretensions and thinly veiled,
unflattering portraits of Columbia colleagues, including one professor who
seemed to have been modeled after the writer Lionel Trilling.
Some critics complained that satiric wit and clever talk filled half a
book before the victim fell dead, and that some of it sounded like an
imitation of Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw. But devotees said it was
all good fun, and some compared her work to the cerebral puzzles of
Dorothy L. Sayers.
Fearing that her mystery writing might be seen by colleagues as
frivolous and might even jeopardize her chances for tenure, Ms. Heilbrun
concealed the identity of Amanda Cross for six years. In 1964 her first
novel, "In the Last Analysis," was nominated for an Edgar Award by the
Mystery Writers of America. "Winning would have blown my cover," she
But after the 1970 publication of "Poetic Justice," with its
recognizable depiction of Columbia University's atmosphere after the
student revolt of the late 1960's, Ms. Heilbrun's friends began to guess
that she might be Amanda Cross, the author of three novels, including "The
James Joyce Murder." Later novels included "Death in a Tenured Position,"
"No Word from Winifred" and "The Puzzled Heart."
Carolyn Gold Heilbrun was born on Jan. 13, 1926, in East Orange, N.J., the
only child of Archibald Gold, an accountant, and Estelle Roemer Gold, who,
her daughter would recall, "sat at home and was bored out of her mind."
The family moved to Manhattan when Ms. Heilbrun was 6, and she became a
voracious reader, devouring Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton mysteries and, as a
teenager, the novels of Virginia Woolf and Willa Cather.
She graduated from private schools in New York and from Wellesley
College in 1947 with a bachelor's degree in English. She was married in
1945 to James Heilbrun, a Harvard student who became a professor of
economics at Fordham University. In addition to her son, of Brooklyn, and
her husband, she is survived by two daughters, Margaret Heilbrun, of
Brooklyn, and Emily Heilbrun, of Eugene, Ore., and two grandchildren.
Enrolling in graduate school at Columbia, Ms. Heilbrun received a
master's degree in 1951 and a doctorate in 1959. Her first notable essay
was "The Character of Hamlet's Mother," a 1957 article in Shakespeare
Quarterly. It portrayed Gertrude as clever, not shallow, lucid rather than
silly: ideas that were forerunners of feminism at the time, but hardly
startling when the essay was reprinted in 1990 as part of "Hamlet's Mother
and Other Women."
On the Columbia faculty, Ms. Heilbrun rose through the ranks: assistant
professor in 1962, associate professor in 1967, full professor with tenure
in 1972, Avalon Professor in 1985. In 1986 she became the first director
of the university's Institute for Research on Women and Gender, which
promotes feminist scholarship.
Her academic specialty was British modern literature, roughly from 1890 to
1950, an era that included Yeats, Conrad and Eliot, with a particular
focus on the Bloomsbury group, made up of Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey,
E. M. Forster and other writers.
Although she was widely respected by feminist scholars, she complained
when she retired that she was isolated by her male colleagues at Columbia.
"When I spoke up for women's issues, I was made to feel unwelcome in my
own department, kept off crucial committees, ridiculed, ignored," she told
Anne Matthews in an interview for a New York Times Magazine article in
Throughout her academic career, and afterward, Ms. Heilbrun continued to
write books and contribute articles to professional journals, newspapers
and magazines. She wrote numerous book reviews and essays for Hers, a
former column in The Times.
Her 1973 book, "Toward a Recognition of Androgyny: Aspects of Male and
Female in Literature," brought her to prominence in the academic feminist
movement. Rejecting traditional ideas of male and female and using
examples from Greek literature, the Bible and other writings, she urged
women to escape from what she called the prison of gender.
Ms. Heilbrun drew on her long interest in biography and autobiography for
her 1988 book, "Writing a Woman's Life," her first best seller, which
focused on women writing about themselves and other women. Even
accomplished women, like Virginia Woolf and Eudora Welty, tended to judge
themselves on how well they fulfilled traditional expectations, she